Morton’s Last Stand: Does Science Make the Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin Obsolete?

Excellent article here from @cmorledge. I’m curious the thoughts of the forum.

Does Science Make the Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin Obsolete? … (Glenn Morton’s Last Stand)

Joshua Swamidass has written a book that I am particularly impressed with, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry , that suggests that the contemporary narrative of modern science does not contradict or rule out an historical Adam and Eve (See my earlier book review on the summary of Swamidass’ argument). Swamidass is not saying definitively, that there is an historical Adam and Eve. But what he is saying is that you can not simply dismiss Adam and Eve on the supposed basis of what “the science says.” Swamidass even claims, consistently with Young Earth Creationist thinking, that Adam and Eve could have lived 6,000 years ago, without compromising settled conclusions of modern science. Therefore, you can not simply dismiss original sin by claiming that science rules it out, on this basis alone.

Glenn Morton’s Last Stand: A Garden of Eden Rooted in History in Space & Time… In the Eastern Mediterranean

This is where Glenn Morton chimes in with his own answer. Glenn may have given up on the Young Earth Creationist story as scientifically indefensible, but he has championed a way to defend the historicity of much of Genesis 1-11, within an Old-Earth Creationist / Evolutionary Creationist paradigm, that meshes in well with the broad conclusions of modern science.

Glenn Morton’s simplified diagram showing how the Euphrates, Tigris, Pishon, and Gihon (Nile) Rivers flow near the Garden of Eden, buried underneath sediment, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, several million years ago (credit: Eden Was Here , more critical discussion at PeacefulScience.org)

Glenn Morton documents his hypothesis in Eden Was Here , based on research of sedimentation layers found at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, that were published in the early months of 2020, while Glenn was living through his last few months of cancer. The scientific research, over the last decade, into the ancient Zanchean flood of the Mediterranean has sought explore this fascinating geological history mystery. So, while Glenn’s hypothesis that the Zanchean flood is identical to Noah’s flood is difficult to demonstrate, the science behind a Zanchean flood of “biblical proportions” is amazingly well established.

Joshua Swamidass’ Genealogical Adam vs. Glenn Morton’s Really Ancient Adam

Interestingly, Glenn Morton rejects Joshua Swamidass’ thesis, expounded in the latter’s The Genealogical Adam and Eve . Granted, Swamidass has a big problem, in that it leaves untold millions (perhaps) of humans out of the picture, prior to the time of Christ, who do not have a genealogical connection to Adam and Eve…

Hmm. I certainly do not agree with that last point! It all comes down to what we mean by “human.” :slight_smile:

@naclhv and @dga471 and @jongarvey.

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To answer the question: no. The doctrine of original sin never made any sense, even without science. Adam’s mistake doesn’t reasonably condemn or mar future people. He’s not the boss of us. He can’t stand in for us. God can’t reasonably task us all with his problem, and there’s no way for him to automatically contaminate us. Science isn’t really relevant.

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@David_Morton what do you and his other children think of @grmorton’s ideas?

I agree with that. It never made any sense to me, even back when I was Christian (roughly ages 11-23). It seemed unbiblical, and it seemed to imply that god was evil.

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I’m not sure if there is any evidence on the ground for those rivers - it’s hard enough working out what’s buried under the Tigris/Euphrates sediment, though good work has been done.

The problem with a “Mediterranean basin” flood is what I stated in Generations of Heaven and Earth for a Black Sea Flood, only in spades. No human memory could plausibly last several million years, even if modern humans existed that long ago.

That would make the Genesis Eden account purely miraculous dictation, with no historical reference, which would be the same as an angel giving a lecture on the KT event or the evolution of the solar system.

We don’t accept that model of inspiration for the rest of Scripture, so why for Adam and Eve?

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First, the title is a bit clickbaity. I’ve never heard anyone argue that the absence of a literal Adam and Eve would make original sin obsolete. Theologically, there’s many ways to have the doctrine of original sin without a literal Adam and Eve, and the text of the scriptures is flexible enough to accommodate many of them.

However, I do agree that those who don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve give up far too much. In order for me to be sold on this position I’d need a comprehensive study on every major passage in the Bible that touches on the creation story, especially the ones that rely on ‘creation order’ arguments. These are not trivial passages: they contain essential teachings such as Christ’s teachings on divorce, and a large chuck of 1 Corinthians 15 that talks about the contrasting roles of Adam and Christ. I haven’t really looked for such a comprehensive study, but I doubt it could be made to work without a historical Adam and Eve - at least, not without some very costly sacrifices elsewhere.

With respect to GAE, Morton’s position can easily be folded into the same story. Morton’s 5-million-year-old Adam can simply be a genealogical ancestor to all of humanity, in exactly the way that GAE describes. So if what we mean by GAE is simply that such things are possible, then this is obviously true and there isn’t much more to be said.

My own position (NaClhv: Interpreting the Genesis creation story), however, is much more specific than the minimalistic GAE described above. I believe in a relatively recent Adam and Eve, on the order of several thousand years ago. There’s several reasons why I think this.

The story of Genesis describes cities (that Cain built), animal herding (Abel’s occupation), and farming (Cain’s occupation). I believe there are numerous other references to relatively modern culture as well. All of this would make no sense 5 million years ago.

It also describes people taking very conscious, spiritual actions. People in general (not just Adam and Eve) are said to have “called upon the name of the Lord” around the time of Enosh. The people around Noah’s time are said to have been wicked enough to merit a very harsh punishment. I don’t see how these things can apply to the small-brained species of hominid before behaviorally modern humans.

I also looked a little bit into Morton’s work, and I don’t like his reasons for setting Adam, Eve, and the flood to be that old. One of his reasoning is the description of rivers in Eden: he takes Eden to be the source of a river which is split into four other rivers - which would be a very rare geographical phenomena. He then reasons that such a river can only exist at the bottom of a large basin, which then got flooded, which could have only been the bottom of the Mediterranean. This line of reasoning assumes that the description of the rivers in Genesis has infinite precision, which is simply not true. And this is a limitation of human language in general, not of Genesis in particular. Not everything has to mean the most literal and obvious meaning of the text (think of the word “sunrise”, for example). I think it’s more likely that the Bible was describing the much more common phenomena of four rivers joining into one river. This isn’t hard to support from the text, and it removes the need for Eden to be set at the bottom of the Mediterranean 5 million years ago.

Another one of Morton’s reason is that the curse upon Adam and Eve (hard work/pain in childbirth) would have made no sense for relatively modern humans, as by then we already had farming and civilization (hard work) and pain in childbirth (large brains). But again, this is fairly easy to sidestep. In my model, the curse was for Adam and Eve, and their descendants. They were cursed to be like the surrounding humans, because they had fallen away from God. Presumably, if they had not eaten the forbidden fruit, their continued spiritual condition directly in God’s presence in Eden would not have necessitated such suffering.

Overall, I like the historical Adam and Eve in Morton’s model, and it’s trivially easy to combine it with a minimalistic GAE - but I don’t like the 5 million years, for the reasons I specified above. I think that particular feature gains very little and sacrifices a lot on the balance of evidence. In comparison, my model, with GAE + relatively recent Adam and Eve, takes the best of everything while sacrificing nothing.

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I won’t speak for my brothers, but I’ll speak for myself.

Dad was an intellectual giant. He was also an incredibly honest person, and doggedly pursued the truth. He couldn’t rest until he found harmony of truth.

I tend to not approach Genesis as a scientific manual. Maybe partly because I’m more attracted to poetry and arts, but I myself see no reason to hold the first few chapters of Genesis to the strict literal standards that many in the scientific community seem to hold it to. He and I didn’t see eye to eye on this point. He tended to think my viewpoint was illogical and cast God in the role of a liar, and I tended to think his viewpoint was overly particular and subjected scripture to an unnecessary microscope.

That said, my viewpoint may be a result of being somewhat exhausted by his relentless pursuit of truth in this topic. I saw the massive rabbit hole he was in, trying to sort it all out, and to be honest, few of my non-Christian friends were asking these questions, so I tend to focus more on the philosophical implications of Christianity, and trying to find ways to evangelize that fit the audience that God has presented me with, and creation/evolution just didn’t seem to be a concern of theirs.

He liked to joke when we disagreed, that he got what was coming to him. He raised us to think for ourselves, and then, somewhat to his surprise, we did! :smiley:

Thanks for asking.

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1 John 1:8-10 - 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Romans 3:23 - 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 5:7-9 - 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

Matthew 5-7 (Sermon on the mount, too long to post) is the discourse of Jesus addressing that sin is much more subtle and prevalent in man than the Jewish law suggests. He presents sin as a natural flesh response that everyone is subject to. Anyone that has had a baby knows that they are born immediately selfish (for survival), then in the terrible twos stage are prone to lie and steal and hit…its just natural behavior and an indication of original sin. To say that there is no original sin is indicating that you believe that people can live completely righteous lives, from day one to death, which no one has ever done (except Jesus).

1 Tomothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
(the apostle Paul, a righteous servant of God who knows truth, considers himself a sinner.)

Original sin is not a doctrine solely because of what is written in Genesis. Original sin is evident throughout humanity as truth and proven by everyone that ever lived. It is further backed by much of scripture, and most of the teaching of Jesus. The science of psychology would prove that original sin is an accurate description of the instinctive behavior of man toward a sinful nature. There is no one that can claim that he has led a completely sin free life, that man would be a liar (which is sin).

That’s just not true. What you describe is just sin, period. You leave out the “original” part. There’s no reason to suppose that this aspect of human nature began only when some guy ate a piece of fruit.

Then a guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original
Everyone can say his own
Kirie eleison
Doin’ the Vatican Rag

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My point is that the origin of sin is birth…meaning that all have it, and all have had it, since the beginning of man, which started with Adam scripturally, or with homo sapien (I liked the term chimpanity…) scientifically. “Original” I take to just mean from its origin, maybe that’s not how others take it…regardless of how you want to view that origin, man has always sinned…the bible just gives a story as to how it happened. I believe the story, you don’t. But the origin of sin came with the origin of man, I think that’s a reasonable assumption whether you believe in God or not, and does not regard where or when the beginning occurred. The only reason to argue against the congruity of the beginning of sin and man as homogenous is to believe that not everyone sins…which is a different argument.

What if other species in the genus Homo or even earlier hominins had also sinned? Wouldn’t that be a reason? “Original sin” requires a discrete moment and a particular act for which the guilt, or tendency, or whatever you want to call it, was inherited. There’s no reason to suppose such a thing.

Now, to what extent do you believe the story? Did it actually involve fruit? Was there a literal explusion from Eden? Does all sin proceed from that one meal?

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I would say that at whatever point you decide to be the origin of man on earth, sin was there. (I don’t consider the garden “on earth”, but rather a spiritual Eden similar to what we see as heaven.)

Feels like a trap…I read Genesis more in a poetic sense, not as literal as most. I believe that the story is inspired by God to relate the origin of sin and the natural compulsion of man to sin. I think the purpose is to relay the concept that without dark, you don’t know what light is…without evil, good is not understandable. Without sin, we do not know righteousness. God has a purpose for us, and I think the beginning of understanding that purpose is to understand good vs evil, sin vs righteousness, light vs dark and which side of the fence do we want to fall on…

As stated in other recent threads, I don’t expect to sway you, nor feel a need to. My comment was to say that as a Christian I think science confirms my beliefs, where most of my Christian brothers think the two are at odds.

In regard to the question of the thread, my answer is no, the biblical doctrine of original sin is not just a Genesis question, nor is it solely a doctrine of the first humans. The doctrine as I read it appears throughout the bible and can be considered as a more broad issue of human psychology (science) if you take “original” to mean the origin of each human individually. So, I assign a double meaning to “original sin” to mean the beginning of man with God in Eden (in a poetic sense), and the beginning of my own flesh when I was born. We are all born to flesh with a sin nature that is part of that flesh. Finding a connection with the Holy Spirit gets you somewhat out of that fleshly pattern, but the sin nature is still part of all of us, regardless of how righteous or moral an individual thinks s/he might be.

There is no such point. Gradual evolution, you know. It seems likely that human nature, including a tendency to sin, also evolved gradually. Chimpanzees certainly have a form of morality, which they also violate.

No problem here. But what makes you think it involves an actual origin of sin?

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I’ll agree with that…but when I read the story of Genesis, I imagine a beginning, whether factual or not, the imagery is important for me to understand why I am the way I am. Similar to what Paul says in Romans 7:19-20 - 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

So, knowing that even the best of the best sin helps me to live better. The point is to try and be on the right path, not necessarily to be perfect, which is impossible.

God speaks truth in many ways, nature, science, art and all the associated derivatives as well as through the Holy Spirit confirming scripture…I think the story of Eden is a representation of the fact that man is inherently sinful, that our purpose in being obedient to God is to turn away from that sin even though it is in our nature (I recognize that that probably doesn’t resonate to a non-believer). I think the story is indicative of the fact that God wants us to know that our sin nature was the result of disobedience and covetousness.

I have always found it interesting that covetousness seems to be the basis of all sin, which is represented in the Genesis story and the first commandment. The story tells us that we came to sin by wanting to be like God, which is a common theme I have read lately on PS from both sides of the belief equation. All of our faults start at wanting to be something other than what God created us to be, wanting to be something more than what we are.

So, even though I don’t take the story as literally as some do, I find deep meaning in relation to how I am supposed to conduct my life in obedience to God even though I am inherently sinful.

No problem. You just don’t have to believe the doctrine of original sin in order to that. I have to say, your version of original sin seems heretical. You may be a denomination of one.

I’m starting to get the same feeling…but Jesus was an outcast too, so seems about right…Interesting to be born again at 50, I’m too old to care what anyone other than God thinks of me. I’m curious what you think is heretical…?

Ask a theologian. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with heresy anyway.

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Hi, John. How would you describe the doctrine of original sin? I find that there is a lot diversity in terms of how original sin is even defined, which partly explains why some have no difficulty in accepting original sin, whereas others, like yourself, reject it as non-sensical. Do you understand original sin as something supposedly genetic, or what?

Thanks, Joshua, for the shout-out regarding my article reviewing Glenn Morton’s book. I think your GAE model works probably better than Glenn’s, but Glenn’s model is worth looking at, too. A lot of it really hinges on how we read Romans 5.

We tend to get troubled by verse 12, by particularly focusing on how Augustine dealt with this verse. But verse 13 is even more of a head scratcher. Henri Blocher’s book on Original Sin really got me to start wondering about this.

In verse 13, was Paul implying that sin was in the world before the “law” was given to Adam, or the “law” was given to Moses? If sin was in the world before the “law” was given to Adam; i.e. the commandment not to eat of the tree, do we then have to make a distinction between physical death experienced by those prior to Adam (where sin was not counted against humanity), and the spiritual death experienced by Adam and Eve (where sin was counted), on the very day that they ate of the fruit, and furthermore including their genealogical descendants?

I could go on and on with these type of questions. It would have been nice if Paul had simply expanded on this, and cleared some things up for us. It is just difficult to try to psychoanalyze Paul to get at what he was really thinking.

On the other hand, perhaps God in his providence left us with such ambiguity in the Scriptures, to keep us pondering about these type of things, so as not to get too hung up on being overly dogmatic on the specifics. Instead, God would rather us focus on the big picture; as in, Adam and Eve sinned, which led to separation from God, which explains our human predicament to this very day — thus our need for a Savior.

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Thank you for sharing this. I am very glad that your dad was able to finish his Eden book. I found it very helpful, even if I was not totally convinced by everything he said. But it sounds like he trained you well to think for yourself!!

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